Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Trump as Morbid Symptom

Our thinking about Trump's victory in the American presidential elections must be located within the wider framework of the rolling crisis in global capitalism.  This enables us to think the rise of Trump, the Brexit vote in Britain, the coming ascendancy of the right in France (embodied either in Marine Le Pen, or a returning Nicolas Sarkozy), and the growth of the far right in Germany, together.  These are alarming developments, but must be viewed dialectically as potentially part of ultimately positive changes.  'The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying', Gramsci famously noted in his discussion of political authority, 'and the new cannot yet be born.  In this interregnum, a great variety of mordid symptoms appear'.

Here are several articles culled from the Verso website.

Firstly, Mike Davis - virtuoso historian of Los Angeles, of disaster, and of the American working-class:



Not a Revolution – Yet


And second, Wolfgang Streeck, theorist of the end of capitalism:

Wolfgang Streeck: Markets vs. Voters


Third, Alain Badiou, unreconciled revolutionary philosopher:


And some historical comparison, from Johanna Brenner and Robert Brenner:




Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Trumped-Up

Donald Trump is the president-elect of the United States.  The liberal media in Ireland, as elsewhere, is lashing itself into an agonised froth of fury, fear, and self-loathing.  In the Irish Times, Fintan O'Toole's hermeneutical skills have risen to the level of telling us that America has told the rest of the world to fuck off.  A maudlin fool who passes as a feminist, Una Mullally, is wailing that white American women have 'failed Hillary Clinton': it doesn't seem to occur to Ms Mullally, from her redoubt on Tara St, that perhaps the real problem might be the other way around: that Mrs Clinton failed American women.

We'll all be absorbing this result for some time, but we must get away in the meantime from the idea that this was an enormous surprise.  Apart from anything else, the polling information showed that the two candidates were very close as we came up to America's election day.  A Trump victory was always on the cards.  But liberals are as capable of self-delusion as most of us, and the leadership of the American Democratic Party, along with middle-class urbanites on America's coasts and their equivalents in Europe, just could not countenance the idea that the American electorate overall could vote an authoritarian, racist misogynist ignoramus into office.  Alas, democracy, like sex, is for everyone, and the democratic process can only be less than itself if we allow such persons to be excluded from it.  

Nevertheless, the result is momentous, for America and for the international political and economic system.  And the date on which this result has been declared is one which resonates across the last century.  November 9 was the date of Kristallnacht, the pogrom in Germany against Jews and Jewish property and businesses that exposed the real character of the Nazi weltanschaung in 1938.  November 9 was also the date of the breakdown of the Berlin Wall, in 1989 - a hopeful moment whose potential has been betrayed by the putatively liberal leaders of the West over the last three decades.  With the space for an expansive and humane 'New World Order' coming in the wake of the collapse of state communism, the United States and its allies in Europe had an extraordinary opportunity for peaceful development.  Instead, in what the late Peter Gowan termed a 'Faustian bargain', the United States, under the 'liberal' and 'peacemaking' Clinton presidency, sought global dominance via its control of the world financial system, producing the conditions for a bloated and unequal growth in the 1990s and early 2000s, and laying the ground for financial turbulence and collapse in 2008.  Make no mistake: we may argue over who voted for Trump (or for Brexit in the United Kingdom), but the conditions of possibility for the new neo-authoritarian and aggressively nationalist politics were laid down in the midst of the Clinton-Blairite-EU hegemony.   

Finding intelligent reactions to the Trump victory is as yet difficult.  Here are some articles that are worth a look: 

First, Jeffrey StClair on Counterpunch:


Next, the editors of Jacobin



Adam Shatz, on the London Review of Books blog:

The Nightmare Begins


Naomi Klein on the Guardian website: 



Juan Cole from The Nation website: 

Conor

Monday, 7 November 2016

20,000

Good evenin' listeners, as the great Tommy O'Brien used to say.   At some point on November 4, while I was out of internet range in a lonely mountain valley in the West of Ireland, my number of pageviews for this blog passed the 20,000 mark.  And you aren't all bots, either!

Thank you for reading me, and if you like the blog, please pass it on to your friends or to anyone you think would be interested!  And always feel free, if you're on my occasional mailing list, to ask me to take you off it.

Conor

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Shooting and Crying - in Israel and in Ireland

The Israeli politician Shimon Peres has died at the age of 93.  His demise has brought with it an avalanche of sentimental, mendacious, mostly revolting coverage in the liberal press, including not one but two gushing, dishonest, ignorant and self-serving obituaries in the Irish Times - one from Reuters, and one presumably from an IT staffer (or maybe taken from The Guardian or the New York Times).

Shimon Peres was a relic, and his death induces elite opinion in the West to mourn the loss of a relic in which it invested a huge volume of Panglossian, narcissistic, and destructive sentiment.  Peres was the leader of Israel that Western liberals liked or wanted.  They liked or wanted him because he gave a certain gloss to the gross realities of Zionism, its murderous aggression, its crimes against Palestinians and against humanity.  Western liberals liked Peres because, unlike more rebarbative Revisionist figures such as Begin or Shamir, or even Netanyahu today, he made them feel good about protecting, respecting, trading with, doing diplomatic business with the major rogue state in the world.

But Peres was no 'symbol of peace', as the Irish Times called him.  He presided over the Zionist project in its heyday of Western approval, when Israel could do no wrong.  Yet, it was doing great wrong: attacking Egypt in 1956, conquering the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, transplanting colonial settlers to those territories from the 1970s onwards.

Specifically, Peres helped organise the 'Samson option', the Israeli nuclear programme and weapons-building project, which has never been officially acknowledged.  Israel has never signed up to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, unlike its local rival, Iran.

Peres helped to negotiate the Oslo accords, which inaugurated the disastrous 1990s 'peace process'.  It was Peres's presence and authority which allowed elite politicians and opinion-makers - like the ostriches of the Irish Times - to keep the sheen of peacemaking on a process which allowed one side to go on making war.  For making war is what we must recognise Israeli settlement construction and expansion (entirely unaffected by the Oslo agreements) to be, and it was tensions around settlements (not the Palestinian suicide attacks which the Reuters obit drones on about repeatedly) which undermined whatever potential for peace there was.

Peres was Prime Minister when Israel launched 'Operation Grapes of Wrath', a devastating bombardment of south Lebanon in 1996.  Notoriously, the IDF lobbed 155mm shells into a UN base at Qana, butchering 100 Lebanese civilians who had taken shelter there.  Robert Fisk later uncovered video imagery of an IDF targeting drone in the air over Qana, which removed the slightest possibility that the massacre was a simple gunner's mistake.

Shimon Peres shot and cried, to use the brutal but truthful Israeli formulation - he did or presided over terrible things, and then managed to present to the world a putatively agonised and tragic conscience.  It's a disgusting emotional and political strategy.   Thank God he's gone.  Here are two powerful exposés of Peres, by Marc Ellis and Ilan Pappé.

First, Ellis, from the fine American Mondoweiss site:

Shimon Peres, Israel's greatest ambassador, will be remembered for ...



And here is Pappé, writing on the Electronic Intifada site:

SHIMON PERES FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF HIS VICTIMS

Conor

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

The Storm from Paradise

Walter Benjamin was one of the great critical writers of the twentieth century.  Sympathetic to the Frankfurt School writers such as Theodor Adorno, but never fully affiliated to the Institut fur Sozialforschung, Benjamin lived the perilous life of a jobbing man of letters in the 1920s and 1930s in Germany, and then, as the Nazis rose to power, in France.  Scholar of German drama, connoisseur of Baudelaire, early film critic, perhaps the greatest analyst we have of urban dynamics, it's hard to categorise him and his work, which partakes of philosophy, sociology, literary criticism, literary journalism, occasionally infused by a streak of Jewish messianism.

That prophetic tone and angle is famously visible in his strange and brilliant essay 'On the Concept of History', published originally in 1940.  Like Adorno, his friend, admirer and also at times severe critic, Benjamin was influenced in his writing by Nietzsche's aphoristic style, and the 'theses' that make up 'On the Concept of History' are no ordinary arguments or statements of a systematic philosophy.  But they summon up unforgettable images and metaphors for the effort to think historically in the bad new times, none more famous than that of the 'Angelus Novus', the Angel of History.

The Storyteller, a new volume of Benjamin's creative work, joins recent volumes of autobiography, and Lecia Rosenthal's wonderful collection of his radio journalism, Radio Benjamin.  This comes from the Verso website, so often a resource of radical news and ideas.

The Storm Blowing from Paradise: Walter Benjamin and Klee's Angelus Novus

 

Conor

Monday, 18 July 2016

The tumbrils, the tumbrils - The Revolution in the Revolution

Last Thursday was Bastille Day, le quatorze juillet, the anniversary of the storming by an angry crowd of the Bastille prison fortress in 1789, and one of the landmark dates of the Great Revolution.  I did not blog on that day, partly because in Nice a peaceful crowd watching a fireworks display was attacked by a man driving a truck, who scythed his way along the Promenade des Anglais, killing 84 people and injuring 200.  This assault has been 'claimed' by ISIS, though the exact character of the assailant, and his mental state, so far as they are ascertainable to us yet, suggest someone in great mental and psychological distress and disorder rather than a focused ideologue.  This has not stopped George Hook and other would-be armchair warriors in the defence of 'our values', and 'our civilization' abusing the platform of the media to declare that 'we' are fighting a 'war' against 'Islam', and, briefly tearing their eyes away from Victor comic and the collected speeches of Churchill, to mispronounce the names of the hapless President of the Republic and of the French national anthem, and to berate 'liberals' who cannot recognise the reality of struggle today.

The real Revolution, about which such fools know almost nothing beyond sentimental Dickensian clichés, was much more interesting.  And indeed, it must be noted that by a sweet irony of history, the Bastille was by the time of its capture empty of all but seven of its prisoners.  Most notably, the Marquis de Sade had been removed from the prison only ten days earlier - a writer in whose work the Enlightenment is both exemplified and subverted (as Adorno and Horkheimer realised in their great critique of the instrumentalisation of reason).  That proximity of Sade should make us think carefully about the Revolution, and about the invocation of liberty, equality and fraternity now in reaction to attacks such as that at Nice.   The fact is that the Revolution is too great to contain in simplistic pseudo-historical maxims, and any unreflective mobilization of its legacies is the prerogative of dunces.

Nowhere is this more the case than in France itself, where interpretation of the Revolution has been a touchstone of intellectual and political life from Michelet to Furet.  The fact is that the modern historiographic orthodoxy in France about the 1789-1804 period has been anti-republican and counter-revolutionary since at least the 1970s.  But a few beacons still shine for the radical reading of the Revolution.

Of these, none has given me greater pleasure in recent years than Eric Hazan, the Parisian publisher, urbanist, Marxist and historian, whose Invention of Paris sits in my bag every time I visit the city.  This wonderful book, steeped in the political, literary, planning and architectural history of Paris, is written with a mix of steel, erudition and grace worthy of some of his heroes - Balzac, Baudelaire, Benjamin - and it is one of those books that makes me smile in public at the sheer delight of reading.  More recently, Hazan has published a popular history of the Revolution, and a short history of the barricade as a revolutionary technique.   Here he is - appropriately on the Jacobin website - on the necessity of the Revolution.

Yes, the French Revolution Was Necessary


And here is Jonah Walters, giving a useful sketch of the Revolution through a series of questions:

A Guide to the French Revolution

 

Many of the greatest intellectuals and writers of Europe were moved by and admired the Revolution.  Not only Wordsworth and Coleridge, Hazlitt and  Paine, Tone and Drennan, but also Kant and Hegel.  Those who think of the latter only as the theoretical laureate of the Prussian state need to re-examine some of his earlier work, the Jena lectures of 1805-1806.  

Hegel on Bastille Day

 

Conor

 

 

Thursday, 7 July 2016

The Apotheosis of Moral Mediocrity - Elie Wiesel

Obituary pages in 'liberal' newspapers have recently been filled with sonorous tributes to Elie Wiesel, author of Night, Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize recipient, who died on July 2 last.  Wiesel, of Romanian-Jewish background, was once described by the LA Times as 'the most important Jew in America'.  He contributed to the establishment of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC.   His Nobel citation in 1986 described him as a 'messenger to mankind', and noted his 'practical work in the cause of peace'.

Unfortunately, Wiesel's work in one of the fields closest to him was not particularly peaceful, or humane.  He disavowed the task of holding Israel to account for its crimes of war and occupation.  In fact he was a crucial figure in  placing the Holocaust as a central feature of American cultural-political life (as documented by Peter Novick), and in mobilising and instrumentalising the Holocaust legacy in the defence of Israel.  This was a task he continued to carry out right up to Israel's most recent murderous bombardment and re-invasion of the Gaza Strip in 2014.  

Wiesel's passing is not worth mourning.  He has been one of the great hypocrites of recent times.

Some reading of a somewhat more bracing kind than is to be found in the bland mainstream:

Sara Roy, a Jewish scholar and the child of Holocaust survivors, is one of the great experts on the history of the Gaza Strip

A Response to Elie Wiesel

 

Corey Robin, an American-Jewish political theorist and expert on the radical right: 

My Resistance to Elie Wiesel

 

David Shasha, a Brooklyn-based scholar of Sephardic history, on Wiesel and Primo Levi:

Elie Wiesel and Primo Levi: A study in contrasts

 

And Alex Cockburn's tremendous slash-and-burn critique of Wiesel, from 2006:

Truth and Fiction in Elie Wiesel’s “Night”

 

Conor